Laurier Brantford holds successful Mohawk language March Break camp for youth

BRANTFORD – Brantford Laurier’s Aboriginal student support co-ordinator Bonnie Whitlow and 5 students from the Onkwawenna Kentyohkwa program at G.R.E.A.T., hosted a March Break camp for Onkwehonkwe youth. Roughly 15 participants, aged 9-14, attended the week long activities.

The week included many fun activities and lots of delicious foods prepared by Chef Joe Farrell. Farrell created squash mac’n’cheese, hiding the colour and taste of squash and providing nutrition to an otherwise veggie-free meal. The youth also enjoyed home-made squash bread, three sisters soup, home-made broccoli pizza, bean salad, fry bread, sandwiches and other nutritious and delicious meals that they didn’t even realize were healthy!

Monday began with an introduction to the space and people, rule setting, relationship building, empowerment, and the Kayanere’kówa (The Great Law of Peace). The Peacemaker story was told, which most participants had never heard. Counselors incorporated the kids into the story, engaged them by drawing a map and talking about what happened with each nation. They introduced the condolence cane, used to raise up a chief, and each youth made their very own cane incorporating their story on the cane. After everyone had made their own cane, a larger group cane was created, and included one symbol from each member of this newly developing group. This became somewhat of a talking stick, and was used in a large group setting to ensure every person’s voice was heard.

Tuesday included some outdoor activities with a hoola hoop game, and incorporated teamwork, as did a lot of their activities. In the afternoon they created a stained glass piece of artwork, all the while incorporating the language.

Wednesday was an exciting day, as the youth were able to explore the University campus during their own version of ‘The Amazing Race’. The race was completed as a group, again encouraging them to work together cooperatively, and introduced them to the idea of a large daunting University campus that some students don’t discover until they attend post secondary education.

Students were able to get a feel for the ins and outs of a large institution, see different departments, residences, dorms, senior executive offices, career fairs, and campus operations and security. We asked Xavier VanEvery, an 11 year old Cayuga participant, what his favorite part of the week was and he said: “Just everything! I’m here to have fun and learn the language. The counselors are very nice. Everything is great. The Amazing Race was my favourite activity because I had fun with my teammates just trying to find the pieces.”

Thursday consisted of a Jeopardy game to reinforce vocabulary related to family in the Thanksgiving Address. Some bead work was done as well, youth created a story string, each bead representing something in their family and life, which they shared as a group afterwards.

Friday, the group hosted a social for their family and friends to attend and celebrate the success of a youth program designed for Onkwehonkwe youth. Chloe VanEvery, 12 years old spoke about how much she enjoyed the camp. “I loved everything. The amazing counsellors… my favourite thing was when Artie and Rohahi:yo told stories. I got to put my favourite things on my condolence cane, like my baseball and a lightening bolt for the Thunder Club I’m part of at school.”

Montana Martin also excitedly described a token reward system in place for the youth called Owennadeckers, like paper money but with Brian Maracle’s face in the middle. Montana explains, “You can buy stuff if you have the right amount of Owennadeckers. You get them if you speak the language, if you try, if you follow group rules and if you win the games. My favourite part was the Amazing Race. We got to see all kinds of buildings and smile and have fun!”

Whitlow spoke about the desire and commitment that many people have towards wanting to create more spaces for language and culture, despite the lack of resources. Bonnie tells us that even the counselors who participated and helped make the camp such a success just didn’t exist in the past. “I’m positive that without Onkwawénna Kentyóhkwa this would not have been possible today.” Brian Maracle and students Artie Martin, Ronkwetiyóhstha, Kawenniyén:ton, Rohahí:yo, and David Hill facilitated this March break camp with help from singer Eddie Thomas who gave the campers teachings about the social songs. Artie says: “Its a great group of counselors and campers, I can’t wait to do it again!”

Another counselor also said, “We were fortunate to have a keen group of kids, wanting to learn. We are very fortunate that Laurier and the office of aboriginal initiatives could provide this program, everything came together really well.” Much respect was given to the caliber of speaker and excellence of students that the Onkwawénna Kentyóhkwa program is producing. Bonnie adds, “What he (Owennatékha, Brian Maracle,) and the program has done for our community is language revitalization. If even just one of these kids decides to study the language or put their feet on a university campus then we were successful.”

When funding became available for a March Break camp, Whitlow did some research, asking local Brantford school workers what was lacking the most. Teachers and counselors all reported the same gap in native children’s programs; there was little to no access to language and cultural activities. Bonnie then contacted Owennatékha (Brian Maracle) to ask him if any of his students studying Mohawk, at the Onkwawénna Kentyóhkwa program would be willing to help out.

His students were very eager to participate and were interested in partnering with Laurier, so with Whitlow they all met to begin brainstorming a curriculum. Significant themes, cultural values and language filled the air at the first brainstorming session.

The group met again to discuss how they would like to teach the information to the youth in a meaningful and interactive way. Each counselor was made responsible for developing, finalizing and facilitating a day’s lesson plan. Once the week’s program was created, Whitlow remarked that “It was a camp I would want to go to. The more we worked on it, the better it became.”

One of the results of that meeting was that they felt it important to teach the youth words spoken in the Ohén:ton Karihwatékhwen, the Thanksgiving Address. “It’s not a prayer, it’s not an invocation, it’s not a blessing, it’s a remembrance. It is so powerful to remember that thanks, and then they (youth) can remind others” said Whitlow.

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